Sheltered (?)

‘I unfollowed her from Instagram because I was starting to question some of the things she said.’ I read that comment on an article about a current bestselling book by a Christian author. Said author has some beliefs that don’t exactly line up with what Jesus said, but I’m not here to talk about her. I’m here to talk about that comment.

It’s a mindset I see more and more among fellow Christians –  although I think it’s always been there, and I’m just noticing it more the more I pay attention. It’s the concept that if we disagree with something, or aren’t sure of it, we avoid the subject entirely. It’s the idea that if someone believes something we don’t, we have nothing to do with them. It’s the idea that anything contrary to our beliefs should be shied away from immediately.

I understand where this idea came from. I saw a lot of it in my early years; the conservative Christian homeschooling community, while eager to do the right thing, got an awful lot wrong. ‘Shelter’ was a buzzword, the goal of every good conservative Christian homeschooling parent. And why wouldn’t you want to shelter your kids? There’s some dark, disgusting, perverse stuff out there in the world. There’s also some dark, disgusting, perverse stuff inside each of us that no amount of shelter is going to hide us from. I know from personal experience and the experience of people I know that you can get into anything from the ‘shelter’ of your own home.

Now I’m not advocating that parents shove their young children out into the world. As my mom has always said, ‘You can’t be salt and light until you’re salty and lit.’ The idea that toddlers should march into kindergarden prepared to Witness™ is fundamentally flawed and probably not what Jesus had in mind.

What I am advocating is that Christians stop being afraid of ‘the other.’ You can’t make a difference if you’re no different. You can’t share if you aren’t close enough to reach out in some way. A lighthouse that faces the land and not the sea does nothing.

The lie that we should do nothing but ‘shelter ourselves’ takes many forms. You shouldn’t go there, you’re a young, attractive woman. You shouldn’t talk to them, you’re white and they aren’t. You shouldn’t step inside that place, nobody there is a Christian. It’s not safe. It’s not Christian. It’s not for you.

Should we throw ourselves blindly into mindless danger? Of course not. But if we’re supposed to be Jesus here on earth, if we’re Imago Dei, if we’re stewards of the heaven we believe in, if we serve the omnipotent God we claim we do, we can’t be afraid to talk to someone different. To do something others might find stupid. To shine love and care into places that never see sunlight. To let someone who isn’t ‘just like you’ lean on your shoulder. To help someone to their feet who might not fit the mold you were taught was ‘acceptable’ to help.

Because here’s the thing – Jesus didn’t tell us to love some people. He didn’t say ‘let your light shine before mankind, unless you’re a young, attractive woman,’ or ‘unless you’re a different color,’ or ‘unless people believe something different than you.’ Jesus walked into a graveyard to talk with a possessed wild man. Jesus ate with thieves and hookers. Jesus conversed with adulterers. He healed anyone who came up and asked to be healed.

His life would have been a whole lot different if he had only hung out with the apostles. Jesus doesn’t once call us to be sheltered anywhere except under His wing. I’m learning to love my neighbor as myself, wholeheartedly, even when my current neighbor (i.e. person I’m next to) is different than I am. That was the whole point of the Good Samaritan story, wasn’t it? And not just to love your neighbors, but to love them as yourself.

Am I totally there? No. Some days I don’t show love to people in my house the way I want to. Sometimes I fail or weeks at a time. It’s not about getting it right 100% of the time. It’s about being unafraid to keep at it, because shelter isn’t a building we live under. It’s the God we believe in.

The world will figure out what we really believe by watching what we actually do.

— Bob Goff

A PARTING NOTE: Like I stated previously, I don’t believe in flinging oneself into dangerous situations ‘just because.’ I also don’t believe danger should mean the same thing to Christians as it tends to. Jesus wasn’t about safety, and that’s something we tend to forget. He also wasn’t about stupidity. It’s not an exact science, but I believe when He wants you to go do a thing, you’ll know. It isn’t always about ditching your life and going to minister to big-city gangs – it’s usually about reaching out and loving on someone near you who hasn’t seen what love really looks like.
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//what He didn’t say

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Anybody raised in the church is familiar with the account of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at a well. Several weeks ago, I was mulling over the passage, and these verses struck me – not like a slap between the eyes, but a kiss on the forehead, or a gentle hug from behind.

Jesus saith unto her, ‘Go, call thy husband, and come hither.’ The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said unto her, ‘Thou hast well said, I have no husband; for thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband.’

John 4:16-18

It wasn’t what Jesus said that struck me – it was what He didn’t say. When I look at myself with critical eyes (and whose eyes are not critical, when turned on oneself?) I see every ugly, dark thing I’ve ever done, and the darkness in my heart hisses, Look what you’ve done. Look at all of this. Look at every time you made God unhappy. How could you? How dare you? How is this in any way forgivable? How dare you try and move past the sins you’ve committed?

And yet, Jesus does not say this to the Samaritan woman. How dare you, how could you, I’m so disappointed in you, you are no child of mine. He says none of these things. Condensed, in modern language, He says,

Yeah, you’ve had five husbands and you’re living with another guy out of wedlock.

And then what does He do? He moves on. Why? Because her sin is not the point. It’s not what He cares about. He cares about her soul, and He proves it by sharing Himself, His truth, with her. This is love. Love does not dwell on the disappointments or the failures. Love acknowledges the times you fall down, and it lifts you up, dusts you off, and sets you in the right direction.

The Samaritan woman’s sin was why Jesus was there, but not so He could drag the skeletons from her closet and display them in the center of town. He was there to remove her sin, to forgive her mistakes – not to condemn.

I remind myself daily (sometimes by the hour, sometimes even by the minute) to emulate Jesus, to imitate Him more and more, as He tells us to do. But if He tells us to follow Him, to imitate him like a wide-eyed child imitates a parent, doesn’t that mean we should look at ourselves as He does? Acknowledge our sins and flaws, as He does – and move past them, as He does? Because our sin is not the point.

His forgiveness is.

 

 

 

//colossians 3:16 + a late sketch winner

  • Colossians 3:16 opens with, ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.’ As a kid, I thought this verse was referring to verse memorization (duh) but reading it this time around, the word ‘dwell’ struck me and the first thought I had was, dead things don’t dwell. To ‘dwell’ assumes life. It assumes that whatever is inside us is alive and kicking and active. To ‘dwell’ is a verb, but how often do we treat God’s word as a verb? I know too often, I don’t. God’s word should live inside us. We house it. As a human being, I can be a lousy landlord. My tenant wants a metaphorical leak fixed somewhere and I say, yeah, sure, I’ll deal with that tomorrow, and then ‘tomorrow’ becomes next week, next month, next year. When I move into a new house, I take over my room with immediate authority. I clean it, I decorate and re-decorate. I’m constantly changing things, making them better, freshening them up, and keeping the place clean. I light incense and bring in roses from the rose bushes because I want it to be as pleasing as possible. I want it to be perfect, and that’s what God’s word does in us. It wants to make us a perfect home.

Note: I completely forgot to post the sketch winner on Saturday, and I apologize. Congratulations, Michelle Black! [I know you. Thus, I already have your contact information. All you must do is wait for the mail.]

///principled fiction, that difficult creature

“Have you written a blog post on how your Christian principles affect your writing?”

Well, I hadn’t, but now I have. It’s a broad subject I want to condense a bit, so I’m going to use bullet points to touch on the most important aspects.

  • First of all, I firmly believe in not shoving the Gospel down people’s throats. That’s not how the apostles did it, it’s not how Jesus did it, it’s not how we’re supposed to do it. You’ll notice that while Jesus said ‘I Am,’ he also used parables about planting seeds and oil lamps. In these parables, He never said, ‘As you can clearly see, this seed represents you. It fell right there, but you didn’t listen, no matter how many times I told you—’ He gave them the story, and left them to come up with their own conclusions.

Back when I read (or tried to read) modern Christian fiction with any frequency, I would get so frustrated at the way Christianity was waved in my face. I was already Christian and the author was preaching to the choir, but there was nothing new or inspiring about it. Saying, “I’m going shopping, Lord willing,” doesn’t add anything to the story. It doesn’t make you sound more pious, it just makes you sound overbearing. It’s annoying.

  • I know many Christians (authors and readers) who are extremely conservative in the kind of fiction they read. That is to say, many of them wouldn’t read my novels. Sexual abuse? Indiscretion? Mild language on occasion? Feral dog-men? GOODNESS GRACIOUS, and this woman calls herself a Christian writer.

Yes. Yes, I do. And in these instances, I like to point toward my biggest inspiration and guidebook – the Bible. If you’ll just open up to Judges – oh, what have we here? Well, we have a concubine being abused to death, then cut into various pieces and shipped out. Flip around some more and we have incest, near-homosexual rape, heterosexual rape, murder, S*ng of S*lomon, and yes – even mild language.

The Bible, my friends, is a very adult book. So what makes it ‘okay’ to read? The whole point of it. The point of the novel is God. The Bible is rife with bad examples, but it is not about these bad examples. It’s about God.

  • I do not write anything I wouldn’t read. Sometimes, this means sitting back and looking at something from a different angle, or sending it to a friend so they can give me a second opinion. Sometimes I cut a scene or ditch a good idea, because that niggling voice in the back of my mind whispers, when in doubt, don’t. Frequently, it just means not dwelling on a certain aspect. For instance, Amnon raped his half-sister, Tamar. (It happened. Look it up.) But the Bible does not give us a graphic sex scene – it focuses on the consequences of what happened.

My principles affect what I’m willing to show the audience. Uncle Ben gave us some pretty good writing advice when he said, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ It can be extremely tricky, and I won’t always get it right – sometimes I might show too much, sometimes I might not show enough. (This is where good friends who will read your writing and hold you accountable come in hand. Looking at you, Arielle and Lauren.)

  • I don’t let the dark aspects of the novel overshadow the lighter ones. I try to keep a balance. Whenever I come away from a novel or a movie or a show or even a song, I have a very distinct flavor in my mouth. Sometimes that flavor is sweet, sometimes it’s salty, but when I write something I don’t want people to come away bitter. I don’t want them to feel as if they need to wash their mouth out with soap, or eat something else to mask the taste. That would destroy the whole point. Again, looking at the Bible, there’s a lot of darkness there, but in the end – it’s about God, and it’s about light.

It can be very, very complicated to write a novel, as a Christian, and have the novel be a good, deep, solid, lasting thing people will remember. You don’t want people to remember the book as ‘oh, yeah, a Christian book.’ You want them to remember it as a good book. Tolkien abhorred allegories, and yet he gave us the Lord of the Rings. Jesus is not found in the Lord of the Rings. And yet that book has encouraged and strengthened more than any amount of Christian fiction that tries to spoon-feed me their idea of Christ.

I imagine it would be much easier to write without Christian principles, but it’s a challenge I’m more than willing to tackle for the sake of my faith.

Here are the novels (written by Christians, although not necessarily ‘Christian fiction’) that have inspired me the most:

Anything by Stephen Lawhead

Most novels by Ted Dekker (exempting ‘Adam’ and ‘The Boneman’s Daughters,’ which I haven’t read).

Anything by J. R. R. Tolkien

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti

The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton

The Narnia series (okay, anything by) C. S. Lewis

The Dragons in Our Midst series by Bryan Davis (YA series that greatly influenced me as a teen)

I hope this post was helpful. If there was anything I didn’t cover or mention, please let me know!

//mascara application

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I’ve never liked asking for things. It makes me uncomfortable. Even as a child, I can remember really wanting something, but then placing more practical concerns in front of it – it’s money mom and dad don’t need to spend, I don’t actually NEED it, I can try to make it myself. I was doing my makeup the other morning and I realized I was going to need a new mascara tube, and I thought can I afford this if I’m still going out with a friend on Saturday and taking my sister to the movies on Sunday and—

And then I realized, all I had to do was add it to the shopping list. Mom would have no problem buying one for me. I knew this, but instead I thought, “Well, if I just combine that last tube with this one, I can stretch it out and….”

A verse from the New Testament came to mind as I finished applying mascara. It was Hebrews 4:16. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

What on earth, I thought, does that have to do with mascara?

And then I realized, my reluctance to ask for things also showed itself in spiritual areas, not just physical ones. I’m all right with asking for things – for understanding, wisdom, patience. But I’m horrible at asking for God to take things from me. “God, please take this ache from me. Please take this guilt, this regret, this frustration, this anger.” Somewhere in the back of my subconscious, I’m thinking, God definitely has enough on His plate without me adding more junk to it.

But that isn’t what He wants. He asks for these things. In exchange for endless mercy, grace, and love, he wants all these issues, all these spiritual diseases and injuries. But I’m not good at asking Him to take them. I’m not good at asking for relief. For some reason, I felt I would be ‘putting God out’ if I piled more things on Him, but that’s so backwards, so opposite of everything He says.

He wants our questions so He can give us answers. He wants our tears so He can give us joy. He needs us to give these things to Him so He can exchange them for something so much better. And here I was, viewing myself as an imposition without even realizing it.

There is no such thing as an imposition to God. He wants all of you, and He always will.

(Maybe next week I’ll ponder my eyeliner.)